Why trust experts in the first place? What do they know that I don’t? A lot

Local academic weighs in on misinformation spreading due to lack of trust in experts

Many different opinions have been tossed around since the beginning of the pandemic, especially on social media. Some of those opinions are running contrary to the facts of experts, and one local academic says that’s a big problem. Especially when you add in the polarizing effects of politics into the mix.

“Unfortunately, particularly in the United States right now the wearing of masks has become absolutely politicized,” says Dr. Michael Johns, Professor and former Chair of the Department of Political Science at Laurentian University. “It has become a wedge issue, which is really dangerous. And I think we’re beginning to see some of the consequences of that in their numbers in comparison to our numbers versus what happened in Asia and Europe and other places.”

The local health unit’s order to use masks in indoor public spaces to curb the spread of COVID has become hotly debated on the Barrie 360 Facebook page

The danger, Dr. Johns says, is in questioning experts in their field. “The wearing of face masks is an excellent example because early on, we didn’t know a lot about this new disease, which meant we didn’t have a lot of information in which to make recommendations,” Dr. Johns told Barrie 360. “As science has run its course, we now know that that’s really important. And people can say, ‘well, you said earlier we didn’t. And now you say we did. Why should we trust you now?’ It is less that they were wrong, in the beginning, it was that they didn’t have information.”

Johns points out it isn’t just one single source giving out accurate information about COVID-19 either, anything else would be risky. “It isn’t enough just to listen to an expert on these sorts of things. Its to listen to the consensus of experts on these issues, because that’s our best chance of being right.”

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“Social media has proven to be very, very problematic when it comes to the distribution of information,” adds Johns. “Because you can see things on social media and it can look like it’s legitimate or it can look and many times it can be from somebody who you might think might be an expert. But you have to dig a bit deeper.”

“To say, ‘Well, wait a minute, we’re hearing the same message from health officials in Europe, in Asia, in the United States, and in Canada. They’re all giving one message. And I found one person on YouTube. And they’re saying the opposite. Well, they’re a doctor. So they must be as right.’ Well, no, they are providing an opinion that goes against our conventional understanding of science.” continued Dr. Johns.

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The danger in only getting information from social media is that it is curated by the user

An added danger in looking to social media alone for your knowledge is that you’ve likely already restricted the amount of information coming in, creating a form of echo chamber. “We all want to believe we’re right. We all want to believe that the people that we agree with are correct because that confirms our worldview,” he said. “If you are using only social media and you have sort of curated your social media, so it is only people who share your absolute political beliefs, if that becomes politicized, which is what happened in the States, then you don’t get that information.”

“You shouldn’t listen to me about whether you should wear a mask,” concluded Dr. Johns. “You want to know about electoral systems or the European Union, you talk to me, but what I do is I listen to the experts in their field, and we have to keep listening to them. Because that’s why we have been successful.”